Interview with Molly Rogers and Emma Clegg, Founders of Jam the Label

Episode 2 is brought to you by Jam the Label. Clare and Danielle chat to dynamic Occupational Therapists and founders of Jam the Label, Molly Rogers and Emma Clegg.

Jam The Label

Speaker You’re listening to Allied Health Podcast, talking all things Allied Health with your hosts, Danielle Weedon, physiotherapist and Clare Jones, occupational therapist.

Danielle Weedon Today’s episode is brought to you by Jam the Label, an inclusive fashion brand designed for people with disability in mind and aiming to amplify the message that everyone deserves the opportunity to look and feel good in the clothes that they wear.

Clare Jones Today we have the pleasure of talking to dynamic occupational therapists Molly Rogers and Emma Clegg, who are the founders of Jam the Label, a leading Australian inclusive fashion range designed for people with disability in mind.

Danielle Weedon So welcome, Molly and Emma. It’s great to have you here on Allied Health Podcast. So your journey through occupational therapy so far has been quite unique with the launch of Jam the Label in 2019. Can you each give us a brief overview of your career to date and how you came into partnership?

Emma Clegg Yeah, sure. Thank you so much for having us. So me, Emma, I graduated from high school in 2011 and then had a bit of a gap year where I traveled a lot and met a lot of occupational therapists. And I was enrolled at the time to study nursing when I got back from my travels and I thought, oh, well, I want to do something in health. You know, nursing was kind of what my friends were doing, but I met all these amazing occupational therapists who said, it’s the best job in the world. You’ve got to do it. It’s such a great career because it’s so broad and diverse and you never get bored. And so I had that in my mind when I returned to nursing. I managed to get through about six months and then decided that OT sounded a lot more interesting to me. My mum at the time also worked for Uralla and so she worked with a lot of occupational therapists and said the exact same thing that they all loved their jobs and were so passionate. So I then studied OT for four years at ICU in Melbourne and that’s where Molly and I met each other. So we met I think in second year or third year and at the time we had both just started to become disability support workers. So we did that casually while studying to become OTs. And then once I graduated from my OT course in 2017, end of 2017, I had all this experience working with young people with disability, and I got a job working at a special developmental school as a full time occupational therapist. And it was in our last year, sort of the last month or two, that Molly and I had this idea to create fashionable products for people like our clients. So I worked with a young girl called Maddie, and she has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user and is reliant on others to get dressed. And Molly and I just used to talk at uni all the time about how difficult dressing was for a lot of our clients like Maddie, and Molly will tell you a bit about her client Jack, and they were the inspiration for Jam. And so, yeah, we started working full time as occupational therapists, mid school whilst starting to work on Jam in the background.

Molly Rogers Yeah. And I had a similar thing where I knew I wanted to work in health but wasn’t exactly sure where. And I went to all the different open days and occupational therapy definitely sounded the most like me, super functional and sort of problem solving as Emma and I found that we discovered the sort of difficulty that a lot of people have with dressing. And so yeah, similarly went through my uni degree and then I started working in community disability. So I worked with NDIS clients from the start of my journey and I started working in 2018. And so that was sort of when people were just sort of getting into the NDIS in the area that I was working, the community area. And so it was helping people we thought at the beginning of their plan and figuring out what this new thing was and how to use their funding best. And so yeah, while we’re at uni we studied, we were disability support workers and as Emma said, I worked with Jack and I actually still do to this day work with Jack. I was with him yesterday, and there’s lots of different things that we did with Jack and Maddie from sort of community access to participation in lots of different activities. But one of the ones that Emma and I would discuss all the time that was way more difficult than it needed to be, was definitely dressing. Super time consuming, super uncomfortable and tricky and sort of pulling t shirts through your sort of tight limbs or people with spasticity in their arms and trying to reach that top over there and just hearing the rip of the material and then all people wearing sort of oversize clothing. So yeah, we, we thought of Jam and it started from there.

Clare Jones So my next question was, what’s the inspiration behind Jam the Label? So I guess it’s the participants that you’ve been working with who have been the inspiration, is that correct?

Emma Clegg Yeah. So specifically Jack and Maddie, which is why we called Jam after Jack and Maddie. So they particularly were the inspiration for us, particularly at the age they were at the time. So Maddie was an older teenager and Jack with a younger teenager. And, you know, we used to talk about that, as young adults that’s the time when you’re choosing your what you want to wear each day and choosing to express yourself through your fashion choices. And there were so often situations with Jack and Maddie where would go out for a walk with them and being in Melbourne it would start to rain or get cold really suddenly and we couldn’t get a jacket on them whilst in a wheelchair. And so you’d end up putting a blanket over or wearing a hoodie backwards. And we were like, they’re teenagers, they don’t want to look daggy, they should be very cool stuff that we got to wear at their age. And so them in particular and then as we’ve evolved, young adults with disability have really been our inspiration for it.

Clare Jones And I guess you know your point, Molly, that you resort to oversize clothing so that you can get clothing over, you know, arms with spasicity and whatnot. Fashion is really important in in terms of self-confidence, dignity, how you feel about yourself, your confidence going out into the community, into society, and when you’re limited to oversize clothing because that’s the only option you’ve got, it can really impact you can’t it?

Molly Rogers Exactly. Yeah. We always talk about the fact that, you know, when you have a really cool top on or you’re feeling like you’ve got a great new jacket or something, that you hold yourself so much differently. And we always quote Sinead Burke, who is a disability advocate, who says that clothing is not a frivolous topic and the conversation around them should not be belittled. And we always really feel that because, you know, it is such an important thing, it’s how you express yourself and it changes how people interact with you as well.

Danielle Weedon Absolutely. Did Jack and Maddie have input into any of your ranges?

Molly Rogers Yeah. So our first item was a jacket that was designed to be taken off and put on really easily while seated in the wheelchair from that exact situation that Emma was talking about, lay out sort of out for a walk. And Jack, we’ve got some really, really good photos of Jack wearing our first ever sample where we got the material from Spotlight down the road and just sort of like, oh, let’s see if this works. And he’s just grinning from ear to ear because we were like, you’re about to be famous, Jack.

Clare Jones And I can I ask, are either of you sewers? Or have you had any experience with textiles?

Emma Clegg That’s a question we always get asked from the start like, oh, so you guys have a background in sewing? Like, no no. But I think that’s what’s been really interesting from the start is that we’ve learned so much about manufacturing and retail and even how to start a business because we didn’t even have that as a background, but because we did have the functional understanding and sort of the problem solving behind the solution to the problem, we found out along the way that that’s been the most important thing for us to have and that everything else we can rely on experts and people that are much more knowledgeable than us around us. We’ve been so fortunate that they have wanted to help us along the way. And, you know, we still make sure that we learn everything and understand everything, but we’ve also learned that we don’t have to be experts in that because we’re experts in what we are and that’s what we bring to the business. So, we’ve definitely learned a lot about manufacturing, but I would not pick up a needle and thread.

Clare Jones But it’s great that you saw that that wasn’t a hindrance to you achieving what you’ve achieved. But just because you can’t sew doesn’t mean that you can’t create an amazing, you know, fashion range for people living with disability.

Molly Rogers Yeah, exactly. It is funny when we sort of describe different things, like we’re picturing a certain type of scene, but we have no idea what the technical name is. But we’re like, you know, trying to sort of describe it. But again, it’s using that like functional language of this is what we want it to do. And the fashion people that we speak to are like, oh, of course it’s called this or it’s that sort of stitch.

Emma Clegg And our consumer at the end of the day and our customers, they are going to be like us. They need to have a clear understanding of what we’re creating for them that most people wouldn’t have that understanding of that technical language around fashion and sewing. And so, if we understand it and we can explain what the different design features are then our customers are going to understand it and understand how it’s functional. So, I think it’s important that we kind of stay on that sort of layman terms with the fashion side of things because or else, yeah, it’ll just get lost.

Clare Jones Yeah, that’s a really good point Emma.

Danielle Weedon So your focus has been on how clothing can be considered assistive technology and how therapists can use your products to support their clients’ goals and independence. What’s some advice and industry insights you can impart to therapists specific to this?

Molly Rogers So I think one of the main things that Emma and I discussed sort of frequently is that when people picture adaptive fashion, or that someone who might benefit from a deputy fashion, it’s quite often people with physical disability or wheelchair users and certainly they do benefit from adaptive fashion but there’s sort of a really broad range of people who can benefit from it, from people with sort of intellectual disability to those with chronic pain or chronic fatigue. We get a really, really wide range of clients. So I think we’d encourage therapists to sort of be quite creative with the people that they’re thinking that may benefit from adaptive fashion. For example, someone with chronic fatigue doing up a shirt might take 5 minutes a day and then they have to go and lie down for a couple of hours because they’ve reached their fatigue or sort of energy threshold. Whereas if they’re able to use magnets to do up that shirt, then they’re able to use that energy for a task they want to do or a meaningful occupation.

Emma Clegg And I think like what we were saying earlier, is not to downplay how meaningful dressing can be to an individual. With occupational therapy and a lot of therapies. It’s really important that the goals or the things you’re working towards are meaningful for that person. And I think dressing often gets overlooked because it’s like, oh, well, we all do it and it’s just something at the start of your day. But not only does it impact other, maybe more meaningful activities like Molly just explained, but also it does have that huge impact on how they carry themselves, their independence, how they feel, how they view their self-expression. And so I think the therapists to focus on that is really important and to really be looking for products that are appropriate and suitable and cool and, you know, assistive tech, itt’s come a long way, but it is still a lot of it is really outdated and can be really medicalized and daggy. We’re trying to push the therapists to really look for those, you know, fashionable, trendy assistive tech items, whether it be, you know, a mobility device or, you know, or bars in a bathroom. There’s people out there that are made that are making amazing products that are really useful and fashionable. And I think that’s just as important.

Molly Rogers And I think being creative around how a task can be done as well. So even a goal might be buttons and while someone’s doing learning how to do the buttons up, that can be really important. But if the end goal is to just be able to do up their shirt independently, then maybe it is worth getting a shirt that they are able to do to sort of focus on other areas as well. So I think it’s being really creative around, and am I wanting them to be able to do that specific being or is the end goal the more important thing to them themselves?

Clare Jones And it comes down to choice and giving people choices, doesn’t it? So, what is most important to them and what is their goal? Is the goal of mastering, you know, the fine motor skill of doing up a button or is the goal to look great and feel great? Can we talk a little but about NDIS funding. Obviously, Jam the Label’s products are NDIS funded, yes?

Emma Clegg Yes. So if you’re self-managed or plan managed, you can access our products through low cost assistive tech or within your core budget because obviously core budget is the most flexible. So it can also be through your consumables because obviously our products are low in cost and low risk. They don’t require the reports and you know, assistive tech applications that more expensive products do. And because they do all have design features that make the act of dressing easier and more independent, that’s how they can kind of be justified as being low cost assistive technology. We do always say that if you have a great occupational therapist that is willing to write up a really simple one page support letter, that’s always good to have on hand, but that it’s not necessary and they can either purchase it directly through our website, just like any other online shopping experience, and then get reimbursed from the portal or through their plan manager. Or you can request an invoice from us and we can send one out to you again like any other service through your NDIS plan. So it’s really simple. It’s just again therapists and participants being aware that these products exist and that it does work towards their independence and towards their NDIS goals so they can definitely utilize the NDIS to purchase.

Molly Rogers To assist as well we’ve created a design features page on our website as well. So therapists are like, oh, I think this might be useful for one of my clients, but I’m not exactly sure where, or how it works. They can look up that and we’ve got sort of a really detailed list of the design features and how they benefit people. And then on each product page as well, they’ve got sort of a more simple shortened version of the design features there.

Clare Jones And just around sizing, really, really practical question, if you order something and it’s the wrong size, you can exchange for the right size?

Emma Clegg Yeah, definitely. Again, just like any other online shopping store with that experience. So although we want to really highlight to people on the NDIS that they can utilize their funds, we don’t want to rely on that fully. A lot of people aren’t on the NDIS yet and also from the start we’ve said we want to be like any other clothing brand, you know, we want to be cool and not this super hyper medicalized platform. And so yeah, our website is just like any other online shopping experience. If it’s the wrong size, you can just get in contact with us and we’ll do an exchange.

Danielle Weedon Fantastic. Second part to that last question that Clare started to ask as well, are there any other innovative products that you’ve seen in the market?

Molly Rogers Yeah, there’s a few. So in terms of other sort of clothing or footwear, there’s footwear called Billy’s shoes, and they look sort of like a converse or a van but they have zips around. So they look just like a regular sneaker, but they zip fully open. So that’s really good for people with AFO’s or of fine motor difficulties who might have trouble with their laces. And you’re able to just sort of put your foot in and then zip it up around, which is super cool and they just look really funky.

Emma Clegg Yeah, there’s also a company called MagSip, which we’re about to partner with to bring out some products, including their technology, which are magnetic zips. And again, it was actually co-created by an occupational therapist in America as well. But so a lot of people wouldn’t think about this, but with zips, it’s one of the most difficult parts of it is aligning them and it’s hard to explain verbally, but linking in them through and then zipping up that first sort of connection is the hardest part. And what this zip does is it’s got two strong magnets that go together and then you zip it up. So it’s like something simple like that is so life changing for a lot of people that, you know, have fine motor difficulties, have a tremor, but also might have an intellectual disability and finds zips really hard and aligning zips. So that was a really cool product that we stumbled upon that we’re going to incorporate into a few new products of ours.

Danielle Weedon Great. And if, if I’m a therapist or participant listening to this, how can I get in touch with you guys?

Molly Rogers Yeah, sure. So we’ve got our own website, which is jamthelabel.com And we are also on social media, Instagram and Facebook, which is @Jam the Label.

Clare Jones Fantastic. So Molly and Emma, it’s been great to hear your inspiring story. It’s a great example of where a degree in occupational therapy can take you. I love it. And with the expansion of the NDIS, it’s such an exciting time for occupational therapy and the assistive technology industry and we look forward to seeing so much more of Jam the Label. Thanks guys.

Emma Clegg Thanks so much.

Molly Rogers Thanks for having us.

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